Youthful Philip Simmons girls tennis seeks success at state

Richard Schulz has been a tennis coach on-and-off for five decades and has spent the last four years at the helm of the Philip Simmons High School tennis programs.
He never seems to age, and his excitement about his sport and team is second to none. How does he do it? Perhaps his enthusiasm and energy are the byproducts of what seems to be a perpetual youth movement at the school.
Take this year’s squad for example. The top-seven players include three sophomores, two freshmen, a seventh-grader and an eighth-grader. Most of these players were on the squad that lost a tough Class AA state championship match to a more-experienced Christ Church last fall.
“Most of this group has been with me since they were seventh-grade students,” said Schulz, who coaches both the boys’ and girls’ teams. “They are a special group, they are like sisters. We hope to get back to the state championship and be good enough this time to bring home the state championship for Philip Simmons High School.”
Last fall, the more experienced Christ Church team topped the Iron Horses for all the Class AA marbles. While the Iron Horses’ cast of characters pretty much remain the same in 2021, it will be a different Christ Church team because five of the top seven players last year were seniors.
“We’re not great like Oceanside Collegiate (Academy) or Lucy Beckham,” Schultz said. “Bishop England, Porter-Gaud and Ashley Hall are outstanding. Ashley Hall might be the top team in the South, not South Carolina. Girls’ tennis is so strong in the Lowcountry. No other area of the state comes close.”
Philip Simmons has promise — and talent.
The top two players, Ansley Cohen and Amelia Whirett, are the captains of the youthful squad.
“They care about the other kids,” Schulz said. “They cheer for them, they work with them. Both are excellent players and AP-type students in the classroom.”
Cohen played in five matches last fall and dropped all five of the first sets against her foes. But she rallied to win three of those matches by discovering the other foe’s weaknesses.
Izzie Johnson is the No. 3 singles player, and Schulz calls her “the most improved player in the land.”
Mollie Paige Steinfort, the No. 4 singles player, is a newcomer to the program. No. 5 singles player Jolie Mello is a seventh-grader.
Other key players include Harper Cohen, Katlin Ramsey, Crisleni Valdez Martinez, Ava Dickinson, Julie Hensley and Merritt Payne.
Last fall, the COVID-19 pandemic shortened the season. The schedule this fall has been impacted by COVID-19 with teams on the Iron Horses’ schedule facing quarantine. Last week’s schedule was wiped out because of weather, so the Iron Horses entered this week with only four matches under their belts, with two victories.
The Iron Horses were scheduled to play Academic Magnet, a top-tier program, on Sept. 15. That will give Schulz, his players and Iron Horse fans a more-focused picture of the Iron Horses’ fortunes this fall. 
Stay tuned.

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